Pokémon Go Johto Tour and beyond: what's Ninatic plan for events in 2022

Lugia, Ho-Oh, Pichu and several over Johto Pokémon celebrate the Pokémon Go Johto Tour event
(Image credit: Niantic)

The Covid-19 pandemic and the measures governments enacted in order to slow its spread brought huge changes to our lives in 2020 and 2021. Work moved from the office to our homes and social interaction online became the only way to see friends and family.

Businesses were hit hard too as they grappled with how to handle their customer’s new habits, and for some companies, the pandemic led them to shutter their doors for good.

It wouldn’t have been a surprise if Niantic had followed this unfortunate trend - with its game Pokémon Go specifically designed to encourage users to gather together and wander the outside world. Yet, thanks to changes to how Pokémon Go operates, particularly with regards to its live events, Niantic managed to turn 2020 into its most financially successful year ever, and its 2021 performance is expected to be strong as well.

But as restrictions are relaxed what can we expect from its upcoming Pokémon Go Johto Tour and the rest of its 2022 lineup; will we see a drop in the number of digital events or are in-person meet-ups a thing of the past?

During the Liverpool Safari Zone last year, TechRadar had the chance to talk to Philip Mars (Pokémon Go’s Product Marketing Lead for the EMEA region) and Michael Steranka (Pokémon Go’s Director of Global Product Marketing) to ask them just that. Here’s what they told us.

Pokémon is best played live

From the start of the interview, the pair made it clear that Niantic plans to keep on hosting events that require in-person attendees to show up at a specific location in the real world. And not out of devotion to Niantic's original vision for its games, but because players have shown time and again that they want to explore different areas of the world.

To give an idea of the popularity of their events, Steranka said around 60% of live event attendees are willing to come from “outside of the market” to take part. In other words, they’re willing to travel for hours by car, train, and plane in order to catch the event’s ‘mons and meet up with fellow fans.

In pre-Covid times Steranka explained that these events average an in-person attendance of around 20,000 people per day - across the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday that they run. 

Liverpool didn’t see quite this many attendees during its Covid-era Safari Zone, but over 10,000 ticketed players jumped into the game while in the city’s Sefton Park area over that weekend - with a further 10,000 general players logging into the game in the wider Liverpool city area.

Of those ticketed players, 89% weren’t from Liverpool.

Additionally, of the further 20,000 people who had bought tickets in 2020 to come to Liverpool in-person (but then chose to take part digitally in 2021) only 50% of them were from the UK.

Pokemon Go Safari Zone Liverpool

If you don't go in-person, how will you meet Pikachu? (Image credit: Future)

For Mars, the draw isn’t just the event’s special Pokémon spawns - for the Liverpool Safari Zone the typically New Zealand-exclusive fish Relicanth was able to be found and caught - but to explore the real-world area.

As he puts it, “You’re not just playing Pokémon Go, you’re playing Pokémon Go in Liverpool at an event - and we want to get that experience across by melding the real and digital world together.”

In practical terms, this means creating an event that feels special to the location. For example, Liverpool’s Docks which formerly held world heritage status were the inspiration for the Safari Zone’s water Pokémon theme. While it was canceled due to Covid, a City Explorer pass was also designed to encourage players to explore Liverpool’s streets and discover what it has to offer.

More generally at these events, Niantic sets up real-world stations across the event’s area that is represented in-game as PokeStops or Gyms. These stations provide free wifi, areas to sit and grab a bite to eat, or recharge your phone.

By highlighting these spots, players are encouraged to congregate here and play together by battling, taking on a raid, or trading - you’ll even find event staff handing out signs so you can easily show the crowds what Pokémon you’re looking for.

Mars explained, “Seeing friends walking together with huge smiles on their faces, or watching Trainers form new friendships and connections is the most positive confirmation that these [in-person] events are worth hosting.”

That said, those of you who have enjoyed digital access to events from afar shouldn’t be worried that will be going away any time soon.

It's time for Pokémon Go's digivolution

Early on in the Covid-19 pandemic, Niantic realized that its model for Pokémon Go wasn’t going to work as restrictions tightened.

“In March of 2020, as this pandemic really started to show signs that it was going to impact the entire world and be longer lasting than first thought,” said  Michael Steranka, “we knew we had to make some really quick pivots as a team and adjust how players engage with the game.”

Pokemon Go Safari Zone Liverpool

(Image credit: Future)

As players saw at the time, this meant that your buddy Pokémon would deliver items and a new challenge to you every day, that in-game points of interest could be interacted with from further away and remote raid passes were introduced so that players could interact from afar.

Steranka went on to say, “At the time, when these measures were introduced, we saw them as a temporary thing - they’d eventually go away so that we could go back to what made Pokémon Go feel like this special experience of outdoor exploration.

“But, what we’ve come to learn is that there are ways to continue to incorporate these elements as more permanent fixtures that don’t take away from our vision," Sterenka explains. "You know, the pandemic has really changed how people live their lives. We have to make sure we’re engaging our users in a way that best suits them and adapt our game as the world changes.”

As part of that adaptation, Steranka suggested that Niantic will continue to explore digital events saying, “we've heard players loud and clear, we definitely think that those global experiences are here to stay.”

What that means is players can expect to see similar events to 2021’s Global Pokémon Go Fest and the Kanto Tour. Case in point, Niantic is hosting a Johto Tour offering global gameplay options.

But as the world reopens we can expect to see these events become more hybrid, so that Niantic can offer its players the “best of both worlds”.

Once again turning to the Johto Tour, Niantic has announced that certain European cities will be hosting in-person celebrations including Warsaw, Linz, London, and Bristol to name just a few.

As Philip Mars explained “We really believe that having an in-person live experience is what makes [our events] special.

“Players can stay at home and enjoy a similar gaming experience, but we want players from all over the world to be able to come together because we love seeing that and we know players love that too.”

So while Pokémon Go's digital events won't be going away soon, you can expect to see a slew of in-person and hybrid events kicking off in the coming years. We echo Ninatic's sentiments that you should only attend in person if you're comfortable, but if you're on the fence we'd highly recommend you go along.

It's as awesome an experience as they say.

Hamish Hector
Senior Staff Writer, News

Hamish is a Senior Staff Writer for TechRadar and you’ll see his name appearing on articles across nearly every topic on the site from smart home deals to speaker reviews to graphics card news and everything in between. He uses his broad range of knowledge to help explain the latest gadgets and if they’re a must-buy or a fad fueled by hype. Though his specialty is writing about everything going on in the world of virtual reality and augmented reality.